DARIEN — The Darien girls basketball team was on a slippery slope.
The Blue Wave, which was playing solid interior defense and had held the lead since early in the first quarter, was clinging to a one-point advantage late in the third thanks to Westhill’s hot-shooting from beyond the arc.
Darien, however, had an ace up its sleeve.
Turning up the heat with its pressure defense, the Wave outscored Westhill 26-12 over the final 10-plus minutes and picked up a 49-34 victory Monday night at Darien High School.
“We realized we had to turn it on, bring up the intensity and play the way we know we can play,” Darien senior co-captain Lindsay Dimonekas said. “That’s when our press really kicked in and we started making those steals and lay-ups.”
The victory boosted the Wave’s record to 9-6 overall and 6-5 in the FCIAC, and they have already topped their win total from last year, when they finished 7-14. Much of that has to do with having another year of playing together.
“Our team has very good chemistry this year,” Dimonekas said. “That’s very different than in past year and what makes us that much better on the court.”
Darien had three players score in double digits, with Dimonekas leading with 14 points, and Kelly Richter and Shea Dolce netting 10 apiece. The Wave was also solid on the line, hitting 10-of-14 free throws.
Westhill, which dropped to 4-10, was kept alive by 3-point shooting, as the Vikings drained nine treys, accounting for all but seven of their points. Maddie Bautista hit three 3-pointers for a team-high nine points, and Jane Bautista had six.
“We were forced to (shoot 3s) because Darien’s defense was so good on the inside,” Westhill coach Mike Smeriglio said. “We couldn’t get it on the inside, so it was really them forcing us to do that. Compliments to their defense.”
Darien never trailed, but Westhill didn’t go away for most of the game.
The Wave scored the first five points and led 9-3 after one quarter and 20-14 at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Vikings closed the six-point gap to just one when Jane Bautista’s bucket in the lane made it 23-22.
Dimonekas then scored off an offensive rebound and hit a layup after a steal and assist from Richter to push the lead back to five, starting a 10-3 run to close the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Darien’s defense ruled, as the Wave outscored Westhill 16-9, with many of the points stemming from the defense.
“They like when we can press,” Darien coach Melba Chambers said. “That’s something we’ve just started doing lately and they were getting more active so we weren’t just waiting for them to come to us. Switching up the defense a little bit, I think they get a kick out of that and they enjoy it. They like being a little more aggressive and that helped us have a little more energy down the stretch.”
For the Vikings, getting better every game is the focus for the rest of the season.
“We’re improving,” Smeriglio said. “They always give 100% effort every game. I can’t ask them to try harder because they’re playing hard and fighting for every ball. Right now, we’re looking to improve each game.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Lindsay Dimonekas, Darien. The senior co-captain scored eight of the Wave’s 13 points in the third quarter, helping Darien overcome a strong push from Westhill.
“There’s a lot of parity (in the FCIAC). It’s who shows up and who makes their shots. Every game can come down to one possession because the league has a little more balance this year. I just want us, when we end those games, to come out on the right side of them. We’ve got to finish out the games and make sure we’re making the shots at the end.” — Darien coach Melba Chambers